A Look Ahead in Financial Aid

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2016 was a year of changes in financial aid, the biggest being the introduction of the early FAFSA, which is now available in October instead of January. Students and parents began adjusting their college and financial aid application timeframes accordingly, as some colleges also moved up their financial aid deadlines.

While this was a year of getting over new road bumps, 2017 will be a year of settling in. Current and future college students need to acclimate themselves to these changes, and make the necessary adaptations in their personal schedules so they receive the maximum amount of financial aid possible. Here are some things to be aware of regarding financial aid in the coming year:

• Students need to think way ahead: We are currently working on the FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic year. Anyone who plans to be in college, whether a new or returning student, has to complete the current FAFSA as soon as possible. Keep in mind, though, that the next FAFSA is on the horizon for 2018-19. Students who are currently juniors in high school should already be planning for this date.

• Tax years can get confusing: Although the idea is to make it easier to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, or DRT, to complete the FAFSA, it does get a little confusing when thinking about which tax year to use. Be aware of these guidelines:

· If you plan to attend college from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017, you can submit the 2016-17 FAFSA until June 30, 2017 using tax information from the 2015 tax year.

· If you plan to attend college from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018, you can submit the 2017-18 FAFSA until June 30, 2018, also using your 2015 tax information.

· If you plan to attend college from July 1, 2018 through June 30, 2019, you can submit the 2018-19 FAFSA between October 1, 2017 and June 30, 2019, using your 2016 tax information.

• Financial planning might get complicated: Sometimes parents want to make certain financial transactions by the end of a particular year to try to present a more favorable picture for financial aid purposes. This will require a lot more long-range planning as the FAFSA is now using prior-prior-year, or PPY, information. Parents of students who may not even be in college for several years may need to make more financial moves in 2017 than they envisioned.

• Keep your documentation: Because of the use of PPY information, some families’ financial circumstances change before they complete the FAFSA. Be prepared to complete the FAFSA using the timeframes required, and then submit your additional documentation directly to your colleges’ financial aid office.

Get more information on college financial aid in my book, Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro! You will also find information on saving for college, finding scholarships, and comparing financial aid offers. Order it now, and get the information you need to successfully navigate financial aid in 2017.